The Hieroglyphs of Nantucket
Peter Jay Shippy
For the third time this week the oldest living human
is kaput. This one was one
hundred and twenty-seven years old. She lurched
to her death trying to ring
a garland of sword lilies around an elephant’s tusk.
I mute the TV set and pour
an unwavering Corbusier. I put on Roxy Music—
Avalon—vinyl—and situ, baby.
This porch gives good sunset, like a cheap bouffant
teased into one orchid.
These irradiated colors make a man question
what he’s done to deserve lids.
A mouthy collie from the cottage on the bluff
drains my head. My skin
is pumice. Poor animal needs a fold of sheep
not those pussy kids.
Next door’s over-watering his feckless tulips
from an acid green can.
The sun freckles his pincers. Sláinte! I hope
he uses fugitive moisturizer.
He knows I know he knows that I love his wife.
There it is. Say it
like that and it sounds like a song folks stumble-to
in Tennessippi. No
we don’t talk, not much, just nod and circle and grunt
like a couple of denuded apes.
We’re as subtle as chum. When I first moved here,
we spoke over the hedge,
metaphorically. Fences, even green ones, are against
the community standards.
When you live on an island you’re either Crusoe
or Friday. Choose or lose.
He’s a lawyer so he knew people who knew me, my
the first time his man didn’t pull through I fronted him
an eight-ball of dope.
Next day a van brought me a basket of hothouse fruit.
Very nice—the pears were firm
as a boxer’s ass. His dear Sara’s idea. Two years later
when my fuses burst
in that ice storm his wife brought me beeswax candles
and we fucked. Under
my Amana we listened to Pet Sounds and nibbled lobes
and nipples and lemon pills.
That was when her husband was serving three to seven
His company embezzled from the (sic) orphans. Well
what can one expect
from a man who tortures dahlias with Atlantic salt?
Am I inhospitable?
Will his peri ever winkle, again? The nerve. We got lucky,
Sara and I, now and again
back then. Nineteen months later, he was a free man.
Sprung on a technicality.
Now I play spider. Who knows what may have been?
We both adored marchand de vin.
Really, when I bought this Cape I was drawn to those white
blossoms. That arbor ardor.
He forgave her. She said that he understood. He knows
I know when he’s been bad.
So be good for goodness sake? He shakes the last drops
from his plastic spout.
Do we learn? Do we ever learn? Don’t mix business
and élan. Don’t drown flowers
on an island. When you’re the oldest dog in the pound,
is that your last best trick?
Maybe l switch horses? Leave the plastic baggie division
After thirty years?
I take five in my teak Adirondack and roll a number.
The sun is in arrears.
I use the remote to play my old CD of young Lenny Cohen.
Peter Jay Shippy
Author Discusses Poems